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Zarahemla is the name of a region and a city mentioned in the Book of Mormon. It is where the de facto protagonists of the Book of Mormon lived for much of the narrative. The Book of Mormon also mentions a king named Zarahemla.
According to the Book of Mormon, the Land of Zarahemla (popularly attributed to Biblical Hebrew זֶרַע חֶמְלָה Zéraʻ Ḥemlā "seed of compassion") was the Nephite capital for many years, and it was discovered by Mosiah sometime between 323 and 130 B.C. Its original inhabitants told Mosiah that they were Jews who went out from Jerusalem at the time of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, and were called the people of Zarahemla, or the Mulekites by modern people. The king of Zarahemla (also named Zarahemla) claimed to be a descendant of the people's namesake, Mulek, who they said was a son of Zedekiah's.
Although Mormons believe Zarahemla to be an actual city that once existed on earth, no archaeological evidence of its existence has been verified. Therefore it is viewed largely as a fictional location by non-LDS scholars and critics.
Numerous Mormon scholars have come up with theories but none has been adopted by the church as correct. Many Mormons believe that Zarahemla existed somewhere between South and North America, and was either completely destroyed or buried. Critics say this is implausible and evidence that the Book of Mormon is fiction, claiming that evidence of activities and things present in the Book of Mormon (such as steel, which would require mining) could not possibly have disappeared from the earth.
Zarahemla, both the king and the land, are first mentioned in the Book of Omni. Zarahemla's descendants include Ammon, who led the quest to find those who had gone in search of Lehi-Nephi; and Coriantumr, who led the Lamanites in battle against the Nephites.
At some point before Mosiah discovered Zarahemla, the people of Zarahemla had discovered the last of the Jaredites, Coriantumr. Coriantumr stayed with the people of Zarahemla "for the space of nine moons" (Omni 1:21) before dying and receiving a burial by them (Ether 13:21).
Shortly after discovering the Mulekites in Zarahemla, Mosiah was made king over them sometime between 361 BC and 130 BC. Mosiah's son, Benjamin, then succeeded him as king. King Benjamin was also victorious in driving the Lamanites from the Zarahemla region.
During the crucifixion of Christ, or shortly after, the Book of Mormon records that all the cities in the region of Zarahemla caught fire and were destroyed along with their inhabitants. However, it was later rebuilt, and once again became a great city.
The city existed for about 500 years, and its final end is uncertain. It may have later been used by the Lamanites (who have been speculatively identified by some Mormon scholars as the Mayans and/or some other Native American tribes or civilizations such as the Hopewell Tradition).
The location of Zarahemla (and surrounding lands) is not specified nor implied by official doctrine of the LDS Church. Failure to ascertain the exact position of a city this ostensibly large leads many non-Mormon critics to dismiss its historicity. But today in Mormon culture the most popular possible locations of the land of Zarahemla are in the Mexican state of Chiapas and in the Ohio-Illinois area of the United States where the early Latter Day Saints may very well have built thier city of Zarahemla on the very site of the ancient city of Zarahemla of the Book of Mormon.
Zarahemla in Mormon culture
The name Zarahemla was appropriated by Mormon settlers who built a small settlement across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo, Illinois with that name. In August 1841 a conference was held there during which John Smith was sustained as president of the stake in Iowa, with David Pettigrew and M. C. Nickerson as his counselors. The stake was dissolved three years later; a second stake for Iowa would not be organized until 1966.
In 2003, a board game, The Settlers of Zarahemla, was produced. This game was intended to be similar to The Settlers of Catan, another popular board game, but targeted at a Mormon audience and set in a Book of Mormon setting. It was published by Inspiration Games in conjunction with the German company that owns the rights to Catan.
Zarahemla was also the original name of Blanchardville, Wisconsin, founded in the 1840s by Strangite Mormons. The village received its present name after it was platted in 1857.
The name has also been adopted by Zarahemla Books, according to publisher/owner Christopher Bigelow, because it's "instantly recognizable to any Mormon insider, but it’s just an exotic-sounding name to any outsider."